A question about orchestral auditions

December 2, 2017, 2:35 PM · I know we have more than a few professionals here who often are judges in orchestral auditions so perhaps somebody can address my question.

Since playing in an orchestra is all about playing in a group, why are auditions all about playing solo pieces? Wouldn't it be more revealing about a potential orchestral member to have them play parts from duet's, trio's, quartets,... with other members of the orchestra so that the candidate can be judged on their ability to play in a group setting?

Replies (10)

December 2, 2017, 2:42 PM · Maybe it's because solo repertoire is better for judging a person's technical skill, as ensemble parts are often easier than solo pieces.
Edited: December 2, 2017, 2:52 PM · In the US, violin auditions are usually 2 concerto movements (romantic / mozart; these are generally not heard in their entirety) and then excerpts from common orchestral repertoire - so not at all about playing solo pieces. You can tell a lot about a person's playing quality, musical priorities, and experience playing in orchestra from how they play excerpts. Orchestras will sometimes ask for a movement from a quartet, to be played with orchestra members, in the final round.
December 2, 2017, 3:25 PM · Usually they have excerpts from orchestral pieces. And most orchestras have a 'trial period' so they can determine whether the player fits into the section.

But they also need to know you're capable of playing really challenging repertoire, which is why they ask for solo pieces. It's not like they hear a whole lot of them anyway - probably 10 minutes max.

December 2, 2017, 3:29 PM · In addition to what Irene said, many orchestral positions come with a probation period (often one year). If you fail to be able to play with the group, you'll get dismissed.
December 2, 2017, 4:20 PM · The short answer is that orchestras want the "total package." If they can get it.

Actually, there are auditions where the candidate, especially for a principal position, may be asked to play in a quartet setting with the other principals.

December 3, 2017, 1:59 PM · As Scott said, sometimes that does happen.

But actually, what I found most horrid about orchestral auditions was the excerpts. That music was never meant to be played solo, on a large stage, in front of screen with a panel of people behind it listening as critically as humanly possible. Although playing a concerto alone in that setting is also unnatural, at least it bears some remote resemblance to how it would actually be performed.

December 4, 2017, 8:53 AM · "But actually, what I found most horrid about orchestral auditions was the excerpts."

What I always found interesting about orchestral auditions is that they can choose much, much more difficult excerpts than the standards. Yes, Don Juan is difficult, but it's still playable. I can think of plenty of other works from Hindemith, Schoenberg, Copland, etc...better not give them any ideas.

So auditionees should actually be thankful they don't...

December 4, 2017, 9:04 AM · In the US, Concertmaster candidates short-listed are often asked to guest-lead the orchestra for a few concerts as part of the evaluation process. The system works pretty well.
December 4, 2017, 10:33 AM · I wouldn't say that solo repertoire is necessarily always more difficult than orchestral repertoire. If the committee wanted, they could choose excerpts which parallel the concertos in difficulty. But I think that the idea is to get an idea of how the candidate plays in various settings. I think that it's especially useful to hear the concertos for applicants to principal positions, since they will be playing orchestral solos, and perhaps even soloing with the orchestra.
December 4, 2017, 2:22 PM · Excerpts are chosen to reveal specific aspects of playing, not because they are the most difficult orchestral pieces available.

Schumann Scherzo for facility, intonation, and fast even spiccato. Mendelssohn Scherzo has a similar stroke so we would likely not ask for both in the same round. Shostakovich 5 opening of the 1st movement and again at rehearsal 9 for rhythm (counting is a big deal with those long notes). Mozart for everything--intonation, rhythm, bow control, style--if you can't play Mozart well, we don't want you. Etc.

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